Tremendous thanks to Richie Frieman for this great interview for Pens Eye View. We did the interview about Day to Day Dream while I was in Beijing, China, earlier this spring. Am thrilled he loves the record!
“a fantastic new record…a musical mix from a groovy singer-songwriter. Get into it ASAP.”
TODAY’S FEATURE: VALERIE GHENT
by Richie Frieman
NYC’s Valerie Ghent grew up in the kind of environment that would certainly be the envy of any aspiring musician; the daughter of two well established artists, Ghent remembers a home full a rich rhythms and harmonies. She says ”My mother held string quartet and ensemble rehearsals at our loft and my father had an electronic music studio. Ornette Coleman lived and rehearsed in our building, so I’d often fall asleep listening to his free jazz rehearsals.”
It’s no surprise that Valerie would carve her own path into the world of music (it’s more surprising to learn that her parents urged her not to!), forming bands as early as high school, and even opening for the likes of Depeche Mode and Robert Gordon as a member of Dizzy and the Romilars. She’s released albums such as “Unstoppable” and the limited release, “Velour”, but today we’re here to discuss a fantastic new record called “Day to Day Dream”. Ghent says it’s “a groove-based, live band album with 11 original songs…I really wanted to capture the feel of a great live album – we recorded the bulk of the CD in two days. And most of the lead vocals were recorded live, at the same time as the basic tracks. I’ve always wanted to record with a killer band – and finally did. Now I can’t wait to go back in the studio!”
If you’re looking for a musical mix from a groovy singer-songwriter, “Day to Day Dream” is for you. Get into it ASAP. While you’re at it, check out Valerie’s non-profit organizations, Feel the Music (feelthemusic.org), and Songwriter’s Beat (songwritersbeat.com). Excellent, excellent stuff. Before any of this however, there’s much, much more to get into, so keep reading for all of the answers to the XXQ’s.
XXQs: Valerie Ghent, PensEyeView.com
(PEV): How would you describe your sound and what do you feel makes you different from the others?
Valerie Ghent (VG): Good feeling, heartfelt groove music! My ballads tend a little more towards singer-songwriter pop.
What makes my music different? I play and sing with a lot of intensity and emotion. I think all the years of practicing qi gong and internal martial arts has changed the way I sing and even how I approach the piano as an instrument.
PEV: The New York daughter of two musicians, including an industry pioneer, singer/songwriter, what kind of music where you into growing up? Do you remember your first concert?
VG: I grew up hearing lots of music, right at home. My mother held string quartet and ensemble rehearsals at our loft and my father had an electronic music studio. Ornette Coleman lived and rehearsed in our building, so I’d often fall asleep listening to his free jazz rehearsals. Around age seven I heard The Beatles and wore out the grooves on Help!. From there, David Bowie, Elton John, Talking Heads, Blondie, The Police, Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Parliament Funkadelic, The Meters, Billy Preston, UB40, Thomas Dolby, Malian artist Salif Keita and an incredible NYC-based R+B band called Stuff. I also loved a lot of new wave bands in the early 80’s like Au Pairs, New Order and Depeche Mode.
Some new wave trivia: a band I was in at the time, Dizzy & the Romilars, actually opened for Depeche Mode’s first US show at The Ritz! First concert? Ornette’s concerts with musicians like Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell. My parents took us to electronic music concerts and American Ballet Theatre performances (my mother played viola). The first rock concert I wanted to go to was KISS at Madison Square Garden – but my father wouldn’t let me go! So the first major show I saw was Styx. Soon after that,YES in the Round – Rick Wakeman surrounded by all those keyboards, wow!
PEV: What was it like trying to break into the music scene when you first started? What was your first show like?
VG: I was in high school when I joined Dizzy and the Romilars. My first recording with them was a flexi-disk of David Bowie’s ‘TVC-15’ when I was about 16 (singing lead and playing synth). We made our first EP in a weekend: 6 songs recorded, mixed, cut to vinyl! Can you imagine that now? We played lots of gigs, at the Peppermint Lounge, The Ritz, Trax, Tier 3, CBGB’s, Hurrah. We also played in Long Island, New Jersey and DC, and opened up for some pretty big acts, like Depeche Mode and Robert Gordon. I remember getting our first review in Billboard, how thrilled we all were! I was eight years younger than everyone else in the band, so it was a lot of fun for me.
My first show? My Mom’s piano recitals! With bands, first shows were at Ascension Church in Brooklyn Heights w/ Pandemonium, a long-closed club called Botany w/ Dizzy & the Romilars, Irving Plaza with the IQ Band (a big funk band I was in after high school) and later the China Club w/ my own band. They were fun!
PEV: What can fans expect from a live Valerie Ghent show?
VG: Music to groove to, music to move to, music that touches people’s emotions. And something unexpected always happens – could even be a note I’ve never sung before!
PEV: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you step on stage to perform? What comes to mind?
VG: Nothing! Everything! For me it’s about letting everything go and just being in the moment. Sometimes I’ll do qi gong or ba gua zhang before going on stage, just to get centered, but once I step on stage, I let everything go.
PEV: What is the best part about being on stage in front of an audience?
VG: The energy. The exchange with the audience. Performer & audience, we’re all part of the same experience – for me a concert is created by everyone in the same room, at the same time, experiencing live music – together.
PEV: What was the underlining inspiration for your music?
VG: THE underlying inspiration? As if there were only one?! LOVE. Love, loss, loss, love. Politics, too and history, as well as nature – but most of all love.
PEV: Thinking back to when you first started out do you ever look back at your career and think about your earlier days and how you’ve arrived where you are today?
VG: Yes, I often think about those who came before me, how much they have paved the way and how grateful I am for their presence, especially the music mentors in my life: Mike Thorne, Debbie Harry, Ashford & Simpson. And Max Mathews, the father of computer music (and longtime family friend), whose impact was simply tremendous – most people don’t realize it but the electronic music pioneers made so much of what we do today possible! I feel strongly that as artists we have a responsibility to absorb as much as we can from those who came before us, process it in our own ways, carry this knowledge, experience and inspiration forward – and then give back to this beautiful world which has given us so much.
VG: I have my own 8’ spear.
PEV: What happens when you hit a brick wall when writing? What are you methods to get over it?
VG: If it’s lyrics then 1) Go for a bike ride 2) Read poetry 3) Pull out my idea notebooks 4) Free write or 5) sing random sounds while I play till something interesting pops out. If it’s music, then I play the section until I can hear where the song wants to go – almost like getting into a trance, where you can be attentive to what the music is saying, hear what it is telling you.
PEV: How do you think the industry has changed over the years, since you started out or at got involved in just enjoying your music?
VG: Well, now, do you have a week or two? Or three? Answering this question could fill a book!!
PEV: What can fans expect from your latest release? How is this different than works from the past?
VG: My new CD, Day to Day Dream, is a groove-based, live band album with 11 original songs – all recorded with great musicians, including several of my long-time band mates from Ashford & Simpson’s band. I’ve toured/recorded with all the musicians on the CD for years: Eluriel “Tinker” Barfield on bass (Tinker played with Luther Vandross as well as A+S), Kevin Johnson on drums (A+S), Ann Klein and Robin Macatangay on guitar and Bashiri Johnson on percussion. Plus I had the great pleasure to sing background vocals with dear friends Alfa Anderson (one of the original singers in Chic), and A+S bandmates Keith Fluitt and Clayton Bryant, who also contributed backing vocal arrangements. Rounding out the sound are Dennis Moriarty on harmonica, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Paul Shapiro on sax, and special guest Francis Mbappe. I really wanted to capture the feel of a great live album – we recorded the bulk of the CD in two days. And most of the lead vocals were recorded live, at the same time as the basic tracks. I’ve always wanted to record with a killer band – and finally did. Now I can’t wait to go back in the studio! Previous CD’s I’ve released include Unstoppable, my father’s Songs for Children, We’ll Carry On (WTC Benefit CD) and the limited release, Velour.
PEV: With all your traveling is there one area you wish you could travel around and play that you have not yet?
VG: I do love traveling and it’s been an incredible privilege to tour and perform in so many wonderful parts of the world. I am looking forward to playing more in France and at European festivals. I’d also love to play in China since we come here so often. As for a place to perform where I haven’t yet been – most definitely St. Petersburg, Russia, where artists and composers on my mother’s side lived and worked for generations.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your career?
VG: Now? I feel very blessed – my friends and family give me so much encouragement, love & support. But in the beginning – my parents tried everything they could to talk me out of being a musician! They both knew how hard it is to forge a career in music and wanted a more stable life for me and my sisters. But even with their concern, my parents still came to my gigs, my Mom even came to CBGB’s a few times. She was so cool!
PEV: What can we you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
VG: Spare time? What’s that? : ) In addition to playing, writing, arranging, recording, performing my own music and touring/recording with Valerie Simpson, I study and teach Chinese internal martial arts (ba gua zhang, xing yi quan and qi gong – we go to China to train each year) with New York Internal Arts and I run a few nonprofit arts organizations. One nonprofit is Feel the Music! (feelthemusic.org), which I founded after 9/11 to bring music and the arts to children, families and adults impacted by trauma, loss and illness; another is the monthly Songwriter’s Beat, which I started in 2000 to provide a supportive environment for performing songwriters (songwritersbeat.com). So addition to the fun stuff – being in the moment making music – there are grant applications, grant reports and fundraising to do.
To relax I ride my bike along the Hudson River and I love hiking. A few days in the mountains restores my soul!
PEV: Name one present and past artist or group that would be your dream collaboration? Why?
VG: David Bowie. He is always ahead of the curve. As for past artists, I wish I could spend a few hours (or days!) with pianist Richard Tee.
PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
VG: Yes! After 12 years of running Songwriter’s Beat – presenting over 335 artists and 50 benefit concerts – I’ve heard dozens of incredible artists, all of whom should be better known. Check SongwritersBeat.com and have a listen!
PEV: If playing music wasn’t your life (or life’s goal) what would be your career?
VG: Can’t imagine my life without music at the center. But if it couldn’t be my career I’d be a gardener. I love planting seeds and watching them grow.
Read at PensEyeView.com